When it comes to team building in the NHL, it might be appropriate to think of different teams’ approaches in terms of how restaurants prepare meals. Some franchises take the fast food approach, pumping out rebuilding processes and changing personnel with blinding speed. Every once in a while, that works out pretty well if the money and talent is there.
The Nashville Predators aren’t one of those franchises, though. Instead, they prepare the slow-cook process. Part of that comes with being patient with their long-standing GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz. Trotz buys into that notion when it comes to prospects as well, urging them to “marinate” in the minors, foreign leagues, junior level or at college.
Trotz is known for making this point very clear: the road to Nashville must go through Milwaukee (The Admirals are the team’s AHL affiliate). NHL.com gives concrete evidence to back up that notion: only three Predators draft picks earned a roster spot without playing in the AHL first. Really, David Legwand (the team’s first-ever first round pick, selected second overall in 1998) barely counts since he only played one game. Anders Lindback comes with a caveat, too, because he gained experience in the Swedish Elite League. The only guy who really bucked the trend was Scott Hartnell and that was all the way back in 2000.
The next player with a half-decent shot at making that uncommon jump is hot defensive prospect Ryan Ellis. He scored 101 points in the OHL during the 2010-11 season, earning its player of the year award in the process. The 11th pick of the 2009 draft draws comparisons to other small but explosive offensive defensemen such as Brian Rafalski and Tobias Enstrom.
With his skill level (and a hole in the lineup left behind by traded blueliner Cody Franson) in mind, the Predators might not be able to keep Ellis in the minors for very long. Assistant GM Paul Fenton admitted as much to John Manasso of NHL.com.
“Odds are saying that he’s going to be in Milwaukee, but I would put nothing past this kid because he does have the ability to make our team,” Fenton said. “Will that be right? We’ll let that play out in training camp and see how close he is.”
It’s wise to have standards, but the Predators shouldn’t allow arbitrary guidelines determine if a player is ready or not. Their rule of thumb seems to work well in the big picture, but they don’t want to stunt his growth, either.
Although he wants to make the team as soon as possible, Ellis also showed awareness of the way the Predators run their system. Ellis thinks that he might follow a similar path to fellow young blueliner Jonathon Blum.
As was the case in the playoffs, Jonathon Blum figures to be one of Nashville’s second-pair defensemen, in all likelihood with veteran Kevin Klein. Blum, 22, was a rookie last season and only skated in 23 regular-season games but ended up playing an average of 3:32 more per game in the playoffs than Franson. In some ways, Blum, another former first-round pick, might be the model for Ellis, as Blum did not make his debut until Feb. 22.
“That’s kind of exactly how Nashville works,” Ellis said. “They kind of give you a year of experience in the minors and when they feel you’re ready, they bring you up. And I think that was a prime example. Blum was ready and he flourished and he became a big part of the team.”
If their mutual excitement is any indication, it seems like it might not be about if Ellis will join the Predators, but when. That being said, Nashville is willing to wait if it becomes clear that he’s not quite ready.